AgriCulture: Dirt to Dirt (no audio again this week!)

WHAT’S NEW THIS WEEK:Acorn Squash, $3.00/each
Vermont Cheese Pumpkins, range of sizes (5-15 lbs) $2.00/lb
Asian Pears, $3.50/lb
Hericots vert, last gasp, $2.50/lb
Basil is sold out for the season
Portrait of the artist as a baby farmer, circa 2011 (Photo by Lila ‘Liler’ Leatherman)
Dirt to Dirt
Hey all, it’s Victoria.

I skipped writing to you all last week, so it’s been a minute since you’ve heard from me, and in the interim I’ve passed some pretty substantial life milestones. Most notably, I finished the 1000-count bottle of ibuprofen that I’ve been working on since 2015. I feel perversely proud of this accomplishment. That’s a lot of pain!It seems like a substantial symbol of something, a statement about my relationship to work, suffering, and trauma. I’ve been thinking about these things all the time, for my entire life, but recently they’ve become impossible to look away from. I was missing last week because I got an emergency call to North Carolina, where my stepfather, Thomas Haislip, had suddenly passed away. I’m not ready to talk about that week yet. When I got back to work this morning, I found out that my full-time employer is downsizing, and I’m losing my job in two weeks. I don’t really want to talk about that either, unless you have a great lead on remote positions starting in November. Even the ostensibly heartening sounds of barn construction, which finally started this week as well, have mostly served to remind me of all the things we’ve lost this year.And it doesn’t balance or change anything about those facts, but at the same time I couldn’t be happier to share that Troy and I have (finally!) announced our engagement. Whatever else is constantly changing, our small informal family feels like a perfect shelter.So.Given all that, I hope you understand my difficulty writing something pleasant and coherent this week. Most of the time, it feels like pain exists at the limits of language, impossible to capture without some critical distance. Instead, if you’ll all indulge me, I’d like to share something I wrote about these things before they happened. I was thinking about all of this when I was in college in 2013. A lot has happened since then and I’d love to talk to you in person about how my thoughts have changed–or haven’t–since then.Dirt to Dirt: A History“We become conscious of ourselves only after certain injuries have been inflicted… ‘‘Punishment,’ Nietzsche tells us, is ‘the making of a memory.’”▪Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself.“The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.”▪Will RogersIf I made a list of the things I associate with horror, it would run like this: rusty tools, maggots, the smell of black earth. This is the same as the list of things I associate with farming. I spent the last two summers working at a small-scale, organically operated community farm, which sounds like a sweet pastoral daydream. The entire idea of the pastoral is a filthy myth. While I was there, I spent a lot of time smiling and talking to board members about produce access, local foodways and integrated pest management. I spent all the rest of my time with a Clint Eastwood scowl and a sunburn, vacillating through a seasonal cornucopia of suffering. My first summer there taught me brand-new things about misery and futility. My second summer taught me the same things.Here’s a fact about small-scale organic farming: we stopped working this way because it is excruciating. The idea you have of a bearded man in a straw hat smiling on a tractor, that’s a lie. Our farm looked like four dirty kids in cutoffs, bossed by a committee of soft-skinned golf-players and a retired mom who lost her keys four times daily. When I did learn to drive tractor, it was from hanging onto the sideboard one-handed so we wouldn’t tip over when we mowed the steep south hill. When we hit a hidden log, my boss handed me a hatchet and told me to get underneath the blade and chop it out. As she turned to leave, she added “Don’t let anyone see you under there. That’s dangerous.”Pulling weeds by hand fills those hands with tiny cuts that swell and crack and never heal. Abstaining from pesticide use means I spent weeks of my life handpicking potato beetles that ooze excreta onto your skin. It means five hornet stings in five minutes. It means a twelve-hour workday lost overnight to sucker damage. And then it means selling my bloody, sweaty produce to the sort of people who can afford a two-dollar tomato. Worse than this, though, is the fact that I felt so responsible for it. We were watering land that was fallow, and we knew it, and we had to keep watering. Every time I spat complaints with my farm crew, we spoke like we were ashamed. I knew I was being ungrateful, but that’s the bad part, too; that I felt like I had to be grateful. I knew that worse stuff happens all the time in industrial farm systems—that I could have been sprayed with poison or mangled with combines, could have toiled with less support and no recourse. But when I pulled myself home at the end of the day throbbing with welts and heat rash and wrenched muscles, this reminder didn’t satisfy me. Stolen peaches only partially satisfied me. Getting paid for a thirty-hour work week when I never put in less than ten hour days, six days a week—that was its own kind of terrible. I did every job from companion planting to shoveling gravel and made less than if I’d spent the summer scooping ice cream. On the day I had to empty the piss tanks alone and found a dead frog floating belly-up, half-rotted, I pulled my shirt over my face and promised myself I would never do this kind of degrading, exploitative bullshit again. But I didn’t quit that day, or the next day, and when they called me up eight months later to ask me back I said yes. I can’t trust a damn word I say.Cultivation is essentially a sequence of deep cuts. A plow is a blade to sever the accumulated layers of earth and humus; plant starters are called ‘cuttings’; we harvest with flat steel knives. Sara Ahmed says “Pain involves the violation or transgression of the border between inside and outside, and it is through this transgression that I feel the border in the first place.” This is a thought I carried as I shoveled—that pain is a thing that reminds you of the limits of your body. It wasn’t helpful, really, but it made me grit my teeth harder. And it laid evidence down that the ways we talk about trauma are also the ways we talk about farming. Or at the least, that they mark themselves on my body in the same way.My friends and I used to play a game where we’d run inventory of our scars. It is a good game, like never-have-I-ever in reverse, where you can transform your embarrassing and painful physical history into a story that makes you look attractively tough or vulnerable. ‘Here is where my brother hit me in the face with an ax handle, and this is from when we put out a fire together,’ I would say, and everyone would nod. This game is now very boring for me. The long lines and gouges that cover my legs and arms, the chewed-up places on my hands and feet all have the same answer: “Farm, I guess.” Even scars that are old now take on this more plausible, less intimate cover story. I don’t remember any one distinctly. I probably didn’t even notice when they happened.Late in July, I picked my baby brother up from the bus stop. He’d taken a 12-hour Greyhound from Tennessee to see me, and we both nearly collapsed on the sidewalk when he finally arrived. He is fifteen, and he can almost out-drink me. I brought him in to work the next morning at eight, and he trudged and sweated through the greenhouses at my heels. After lunch, we spent five straight hours mulching unending rows of kale babies, back-to-back. I don’t remember how we got started—and it seems like probably the least likely thing that could have happened—but as the sun was sinking and we finished the row, we were talking about the past that we shared, and how well we had survived each other. My brother said “I guess it’s a really good thing I was so little when we’d fight, or else I probably would have killed you.”“We would both be dead.”“Yeah. We could have both been dead.”We didn’t talk anymore after that. We put our tools away, turned on my car, locked the gate and pulled out into the road. We bought beer and ice cream for dinner because I have total autonomy when it comes to mundane, inconsequential decisions. I said that to my brother, told him “See, there are perks to getting older.” He said “You had to buy us beer and ice cream. I just have to eat it.” I get irritated when my parents suggest he is smarter than I am, but I’m working to outgrow that.One way we deal with trauma is through a continual process of departure and return, circling around the place where we have been wounded. This looks like walking the same row over and over again, except every time you pass by, new things are coming up. The place is the same, your tread is the same, the result is different. The work that gets done through this pacing doesn’t feel like recovery. At best, it feels like mitigation. Kristin Kimball is a farmer, and she says “There is no such thing as finished. Work comes in a stream and has no end. There are only the things that must be done now and things that can be done later. The threat the farm has got on you, the one that keeps you running from can until can’t, is this: do it now, or some living thing will wilt or suffer or die.”When my brother was a baby, he would get caught up in these black stormcloud tantrums that made him hit his head against the wall. When this would happen, I would pull him away and tell him “if it hurts, quit doing it.” He didn’t usually listen, and I can’t either. I have spent a lot of time carefully, purposefully ruining my body. I’ve inhaled clouds of poison and burned my skin with hot nails and pushed my body through strain that broke it in places. I’ve done these things as part of my job, and I’ve done them voluntarily. My knees and my ankles are damaged in ways that will never fully heal. I learned how to cultivate vegetables and drive machinery and mix potions and amend and repair. I made enough money to buy beer and bus tickets. I wore through two pairs of boots. When I try to make these columns balance; it is too much, and it is also enough.
Foucault says that “knowledge is not made for understanding. It is made for cutting.” This is another thing I would think to myself while I shoveled the mountain of things that needed shoveling. I know that trauma is continual and transformative, that it pushes against attempts to articulate it. Finding words for your experience necessarily distorts the truth of what happened, and this forgetting is part of what we mean by ‘recovery.’ We plant so that we have something to harvest later. I am not yet done walking this row.Written for Rhetoric 205: Literary Nonfiction, March 2013.
Raspberries, $6/pint — Just a few available
Fish Peppers, 2 for $1.00
Cubanelles, 4 for $1.00
Tiny hot matchbox peppers, $2.50/bag — spicy, great for stringing and drying
Oasis turnips, $2/bunch
Cherry Bell Radishes, $2/bunchWild Water Peppers, $2/bunch
Tomatoes, only small ones remain $3/lb.
Sun Gold tomatoes $4/pint
Lots of Rainbow Chard – $3/bunch
Leeks, $1.50/each
Honey nut squash, $2/each
Acorn squash, $3/each
Cucumbers, $2/lb
Mugwort, $1/bunch for infusions or tea
Scallions, $2/bunch
Kale $3/bunch two different varieties, deep blue green straight leaf and curly leaf
Collards, $3/bunch
MINT: $.75 a bunch
SHISO LEAVES green or red, $1.00 FOR 10EGGS: $5/dozMEATS: We keep some on hand, but it helps to order ahead in case we need to retrieve from our stash in the big commercial freezerGEESE: One remaining, about 8.5 lbs. $10/lb.ROASTING CHICKENS – Nice fat Freedom Rangers, frozen, largish (4 to 7 lbs, a few smaller), $6/lb.LAMB: Riblets $8/lb, small and larger leg roasts $14/lb, lamb stew $7/lb, shanks, $10/lbPORK: Loin pork chops, $12/lb (2 to a pack, btwn 1 and 1.5 lbs), Jowl (roughly 2 to 3 lbs each), $12/lb,
Spare ribs and country ribs $7/lb
baby back ribs $8/lb
fresh ham roasts (2 to 3 lbs), $12/lb
picnic or Boston butt roasts (roughly 2 lbs) SOLD OUT
smoked bacon, $12/lb
Kielbasa $8/lb
FARM PICKUPS:Email us your order at, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Regular pickup times are Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., other days by arrangement. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call at 518-537-3815 or email.


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